Air passengers who refuse to follow Covid-19 guidelines like wearing a face mask inside the aircraft can be treated as "unruly" or de-boarded ahead of take-off, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has said.

"In case any passenger on board an aircraft refuses to wear mask or violates the Covid-19 protocol for passengers even after repeated warnings, during the course of the flight, such passenger may be treated as unruly passenger," the aviation regulator says in its latest order.

"The airline shall ensure that in case any passenger does not adhere to instructions even after repeated warnings, he/she should be de-boarded, if need be, before departure," it adds.

DGCA, however, said that the removal of masks will only be permitted under exceptional circumstances. "Airline shall ensure that all passengers are wearing face masks properly and continue to wear the mask throughout the journey. The face masks can be removed under exceptional circumstances and for permitted reasons only," says the regulator.

It also told the airlines to make arrangements of extra face masks and provide them to the passengers if required.

This comes after an order by the Delhi High Court said that strict actions should be taken against those passengers who are found violating Covid-19 safety norms at airports and inside aircraft.

In its June 3 order, the court had said that air passengers who refuse to follow Covid-19 protocol or are found without face masks can be removed from the aircraft, put on a "no-fly" list, or handed over to security agencies for further action.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 cases in the country are on the rise again. India recorded 7,240 fresh Covid-19 cases on Thursday, around 40% higher than a day ago. This was led by a steep rise in the coronavirus cases in Maharashtra and Kerala.

India's domestic air passenger traffic stood at 1.14 crore in May 2022, around 7% lower compared to the pre-pandemic level of 1.22 crore in May 2019, according to rating agency ICRA.

The waning Covid-19 infections resulted in a year-on-year growth of 4.4 times in domestic air passenger traffic in May. On a monthly basis, domestic air traffic rose 5% from 1.09 crore in April 2022.

ICRA, however, continues to maintain a "negative" outlook on the Indian aviation industry, reflecting its view that the financial performance of Indian airlines is likely to remain under pressure in the near term, even as recovery in domestic passenger traffic has been healthy. An overhang of any further Covid-19 wave looms on the sector in case the recent rise in Covid infections in certain pockets of the country spreads nationwide, it says.

International passenger traffic for Indian carriers surged to around 22 lakh in May 2022, surpassing the pre-Covid levels of around 17.7 lakh by 24%.

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